Star Power: Lessons in recruiting from the world of sports

You can't attract the real stars without a personal approach

As a corporate technology recruiter and sister-in-law of an NFL Hall of Famer, I've had a front-row view of how star talent is recruited. Turns out, building a winning team is surprisingly similar in the corporate and sports worlds.--

The key to both is to make the process personal. Winning teams take the time to learn more about a potential recruit than just their game stats. They find out about their career goals and motivations to ensure the fit is a win for both the company and the individual. Successful employers, like winning coaches, know what motivates their players and deliver that path to success.

Here are some recruiting tips from the pros:

  • Great coaches roll up their sleeves and dive into the recruiting process. They know that the key to building a successful team is recruiting star talent at all levels, and they immerse themselves in the process. They get to know the candidates, map out opportunities that fit their career goals, and follow through on their promises. Juicy incentives might include the chance to work with emerging technologies, getting involved with software architecture, or working on a greenfield project.
  • Winning teams recognize star potential in rookies. Whether it's sifting through 100 intern résumés to find the perfect fit or taking a chance on a talented new grad, great teams are able to identify a diamond in the rough. With a technical team, it's usually raw coding talent -- one of the reasons we love GitHub. Great coaches work with their rookies to help them develop into stars.
  • Great teams play defense as well as offense. They're always on the lookout for the stars in their industry. Their talent scouts track who is speaking at industry events, blogging innovative ideas or delivering game-changing technical solutions. And they are prepared to put out a strong first offer. Winning teams are nimble and streamline their hiring process to make sure their competition doesn't nab a top candidate first.
  • Winning teams are more than a group of players. I've always loved the Rocky Bleier story. Here was a guy with a huge heart and dogged determination who persevered and ultimately had a legendary career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hard work, determination, great coaching and passion for the game paid off. Winning teams are great at sourcing and recognizing the intangible qualities that drive success.
  • They cultivate a stellar brand. Star talents, in business as in sports, want to be part of a winning organization. Their first impression (for better or worse) starts with what they read about you online. This impression continues through every interaction point that the candidate has with the organization through the recruiting process. Has your company won industry awards? Do you hold several patents? Are you an industry leader with game-changing innovations? Make sure the interview team is talking to candidates about your wins.
  • They manage bad press. Even great teams lose from time to time. Successful recruiting teams deal with bad press and negative industry rumors head-on in an interview. Yes, the elephant is in the room and someone needs to talk about it. The recruiting team is prepared with speaking points to avoid the deer-in-the-headlights stare.
  • Great teams play to win. I'm sure that when Bill Belichik has a game against the Giants, he does more than say, "Well guys, let's see how it goes this week." In sports and in business, a fine-tuned game plan is essential for a win. When a team identifies a "press release-worthy" candidate, they actively pursue them with a perfect pitch: speaking points about the role, industry position, growth opportunities and employee value proposition. And they don't like to lose.

Building a game-changing team of stars in a competitive market, as in sports, requires recruiting with a personal touch, combined with effective retention strategies and a streamlined hiring processes. The result? Flawless execution -- and one in the W column.

Kathy Harris is the founder/managing director of Harris Allied, a premier provider of executive search, technology, UX/UI design and quant analyst placement services to the technology and financial sectors. Contact her at kathy@harrisallied.com.

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